Main point summary
Seek the righteousness of God by meekly receiving the Word of God instead of trusting in your own thoughts and emotions.
g Know this, my beloved brothers:
You need to understand these wise sayings, beloved brothers
let every person h be quick to hear,
The proverbs state that every person should be quick to hear
i slow to speak,
but slow to speak
j slow to anger;
and slow to get angry
for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
The reason this proverb is true is because your own anger (and by extension your own thoughts and emotions) will never produce the righteousness of God
Therefore k put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness
Therefore ( because the things inside of you aren't able to produce the righteousness of God ), put away the things that come out of your natural self, things like filthiness and wickedness
and receive with l meekness the implanted word,
And instead, receive with meekness the implanted word
m which is able to save your souls.
because , this word (unlike your anger) is able to save your soul.
In 19a James introduces proverbs, or wise sayings, that were likely already familiar to his audience. Thus, the sense of "know" (vida) here is probably not "be aware of", but rather "understand the implications of these proverbs for your spiritual life." 19b–d then, state the wise sayings that James has in mind. In verse 20 we find out the reason these proverbs are indeed wise counsel. Namely, because the thoughts and emotions that are inside of us, anger being a prime example, do not produce the righteousness of God. This is to say that trusting in our own thinking, or looking inward to explore our own hearts, will only produce more of what is already there. Because the righteousness of God is not already in us, we have to seek it from a source external to us. Thus, we need to be quick to hear. The implication of this truth is that we need to do away with the things that are endemic to our natural flesh. Perhaps there is a loose correlation between filthiness and speech, and then between rampant wickedness and anger, filthiness referring to the sensual passions inside us which come out in speech, and rampant wickedness being acts of cruelty that manifest from our internal anger. Regardless, it is clear that these are all things that flow out of our natural selves. In addition to distrusting and putting away our natural selves we need receive, or bring into ourselves, the implanted Word of God. This is how a Christian practically applies the wisdom of being quick to hear. Rather than immediately allowing our thought or emotions to direct us, we hurry to the Word of God and seek to listen. The fruit of this listening is radically different from trusting ourselves because, unlike our thoughts and emotions, the word of God is sufficient to save our souls. The key to this entire exchange is the word "meekness" found in 21b. Meekness, though only appearing as an adjective in the final thoughts of the passage, is the virtue that undergirds the entire argument. A person is only able to be quick to hear and slow to speak and slow to anger when they truly believe that they need help from a source outside of themselves. Putting away our natural selves and replacing it with the implanted word is an act of submission and can only be done under the assumption that we need something that we can never provide for ourselves.